Wisconsin Corruption Charges a Political Bombshell
By Doug Cunningham, Special to Stateline
In a state that used to pride itself on clean, progressive state government it is a political bombshell. State Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala (D-Madison) and Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen (R-Waukesha) are both charged with felony misconduct in office, including allegations of extortion and conspiracy to violate campaign contribution laws.
The Milwaukee District Attorney's office filed twenty felony charges against Chvala in Madison as part of a 17-month investigation into alleged corruption in the state legislature. Madison prosecutors charged Jensen with three felonies and a misdemeanor.
Chvala and Jensen insist they're innocent of the charges but both will resign their legislative leadership posts. Chvala and Jensen vowed to fight the charges.
"There is no question that this action today, just weeks before the fall elections, in an investigation that has dragged on for almost a year and a half, is designed to have a political impact. I will fight these allegations because they are not true. But I have decided that, in the interest of the Senate, I will resign as Majority Leader as soon as a new leader is selected," Chvala said in a prepared statement.
Jensen, in his prepared statement, said, "I know these charges are untrue and that we have the witnesses to prove it. Sadly, it will take time for the judicial system to work justice and clear my name."
Milwaukee Assistant District Attorney David Feiss filed the charges against Chvala and said an initial court hearing is set for October 24th. Feiss says it's inappropriate for his office to comment to reporters about the charges. Dane County Prosecutor Brian Blanchard also refused comment on his charges against Jensen.
"Today is a dark day in Wisconsin's history. Our citizens demand and deserve the highest level of ethical behavior from their public officials and that public trust has been violated," said Gov. Scott McCallum of the charges against Chvala.
In a prepared statement, McCallum said, " We must do everything possible to restore public confidence and re-establish integrity in Wisconsin government. "
Ever since the Wisconsin State Journal newspaper broke the story of illegal partisan campaigning on state resources in the legislature prosecutors in Milwaukee and Madison have been conducting a secret investigation. Lawmakers have used roughly $800,000 in tax money to pay criminal defense lawyers for themselves and their staffs and this has become a campaign issue.
Prosecutors won't say whether they're nearing the end of their political corruption investigation.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim Doyle, who is also the state's attorney general had long been calling for both Chvala and Jensen to resign their leadership posts in the legislature because they were targets of the corruption investigation.
Republican Assembly Majority Leader Steve Foti was also hit with one felony count for allegedly using a state employee to do partisan political campaign work. Republican State Representative Bonnie Ladwig, a member of the Assembly leadership, has also been charged with a misdemeanor for using state resources to campaign.
Common Cause in Wisconsin's Jay Heck says it's an incredibly sad day in Wisconsin Politics.
"I hope that what voters get out of this is that they need to be more in tune with their state government and that they have to demand reform and they have to demand better performance," Heck said.